An Irrational Fear of Mass?
This month I will be returning to Washington, DC to visit the Natural History Museum along with Fords Theater and many other sites, but I wanted to let you all in on a small secret about one of my biggest fears. And I do mean big…
When I was younger (not sure the exact age) I remember that my sister would take me down to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I loved it. The minute you walk in you are met with a giant elephant model that demands your attention. But I’m not about to tell you that I’m fearful of a giant stampeding elephant, because that would be a rational fear when compared to my actual fear.
The first time I encountered this big fear was at a time where the “Life in the Sea” exhibit was under repair so much of the area was sectioned off with temporary paneled walls, much like cubicle walls in an office. We were there on a trip and I remember that because classmates were running rampant all over the exhibit with parent chaperones.
As I continued through the hallways of the temporary display I became aware of the fact that there were cracks in the sectional walls that gave a glimpse into what was off limits in the area behind the exhibit. So being a young kid, I peeked through one. There was nothing really to see other than the backside wall of an empty room. I continued down the wall to the next crack and again peered through revealing nothing but the same wall. So again I continued, and the third crack was where I first learned that curiosity can be a cruel character trait.
As I approached, I had no expectations as to what may have been behind the third crack in the wall so I approached it with obnoxious certainty that I would be met with another view of a blank wall in a room of nothing. That was not the case. What lay well within view of the third crack was something that I’m certain has shaped every thought of my large respect and fear of large bodies of dark water. I wasn’t just peering at something, but was being peered back at. What lay behind the section of wall visible through this small crack was the frontal mouth and large eye of a 94 ft long, life-sized model of a Blue Whale.
When people ask me about this story and why it has created an irrational fear of blue whales, I can only try to relate the visual of seeing that mammoth beast to the scene from Jurassic Park where the Tyrannosaurus Rex lowers its head next to the SUV’s windows revealing its large yellow eye. They always make sure to mention the idea that the main difference is that the Tyrannosaurus would actually eat you, but tell that to a young kid whose world view of size relationships is blown apart by the site of that whale.
Anyways, I know it’s irrational, but it has got me wondering whether I just have an issue with massive objects. I got some of the same feeling being lowered down the side of a massive cruise ship on an island hop trip from the cruise liner we were on to the island of St. Martin in my teens. The mass of the ship was staggering. Not as fearful an experience but compelling nonetheless.
I get this same feeling when I research the massive size of objects that exist beyond our orbit. Things such as the fact that Jupiter’s red spot (a 300 year old gigantic super storm) could contain the width and height of two full Earth sized planets. Then zoom out and try to grasp the relation of the red spot to the gas giant’s overall size (11 times the diameter of Earth). A ping pong ball versus a basketball. It’s fascinating to me at least. I can only imagine how my body and anxiety would react to being next to that.
I figured I’d tell this tale because the Smithsonian has since dismantled the old beast and has now replaced it with a hanging 74 ft. North Atlantic Right Whale. A friend made me aware of it being installed recently and so I guess now I have to attempt to meet a new arch-villain of my irrational fear of blue whales. Though so far no other whale has had this effect on me. Wish me luck!